This is according to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer that was recently launched at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos. This annual survey, now in its 20th year, tracks trust and credibility across 28 global markets and looks at business, NGOs, government and the media.

Trust, according to the survey, is a function of both competence and ethics. Only business was seen as competent and only NGOs were seen as ethical. To exacerbate the situation, ethics is considered three times more important than competence as a driver of trust. 

The report indicated that media was seen as lacking in both competence and ethics, especially in developed markets where corporate malfeasance, government corruption and fake news have eroded trust.

Media is distrusted in 16 out of the 28 markets reported in the study. Eight markets were neutral and only four markets indicated that they trusted their media. These were Thailand, Indonesia, India and China.

The survey indicates three out of four respondents worry that fake news will be used as a weapon. This isn't surprising, given the revelations of foreign interference in the 2016 US presidential election and in Brexit.

Journalists were seen as among the least credible sources of information (just above government officials), while experts and peers were seen as the most credible. Trust in peers might reflect the drive to get recommendations from others — particularly when seeking professional services.

Unfortunately, trusting one's peers, defined as 'a person like yourself' can also lead to the spread of disinformation through social platforms. On the bright side, traditional media came in second place to search as a trusted source of information, followed by owned media in third place (such as corporate and institutional websites and newsletters) and finally, social media.

What can media do to improve trust? The 'obvious' answers include:
  • being objective,
  • focusing on the quality of their information, and
  • to provide important, as opposed to sensationalised, information.
A less obvious answer, however, is to differentiate between opinion and fact. The 24/7 online news cycle and the proliferation of opinionists on television can sometimes give the impression that what the experts are saying is factually correct rather than simply opinions.

The good news is that over the last two years, consumers are more engaged with news than previously. The number of respondents who consume news less than weekly has dropped dramatically, while the number of 'amplifiers' (those who consume news weekly or more and share or post content several times a month) has grown substantially.

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Want to know the reality of social media as a news source and the effect that it has on traditional news outlets? Check out What to trust: Traditional news outlets or social media